Saturday, June 25, 2011

Gulf Coast chamber rejects merger again; Vote narrowly fails to reach two-thirds majority

GULF SHORES, Alabama — A vote of the Alabama Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce to merge with the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce failed for the second time today.
The 64.29 percent of chamber members who favored the idea fell just shy of the 67 percent need to enact the merger already approved by the South Baldwin Chamber.
After the results were tallied at the Gulf Shores Adult Activity Center, former Gulf Coast Chamber Chairman Greg Kennedy, who opposed the merger, said the idea to cast a second vote, after the first failed, likely steered many members away from the merger.
“Our community has been split on this issue, and I think the re-vote was as wrong as it could be,” Kennedy said. “The impropriety of changing the rules to win — I think that was the big deal.”
Both chambers took a vote on the merger May 25, when the South Baldwin Chamber, based in Foley, approved the idea with 75 percent of the vote.
But the Gulf Shores-based Gulf Coast Chamber’s vote fell short, and those who favored the merger said the vote failed because not enough members participated.
In the second vote, the threshold was lowered to 67 percent, with proxy ballots cast as well as those in person.
The latest idea to merge the two chambers was heightened in the wake of the BP oil spill, when both groups worked closely in the Coastal Resiliency Coalition.
Opponents of the merger said they believed the combined chambers would dilute the representation of businesses along the beach.
“There is no reason we have to merge in order to work together,” Kennedy said.
But Joe Joe McCarron, chairman of the Gulf Coast Chamber, said the combined group — with 1,500 members representing more than 20,000 workers — would help attract new industry and businesses.
The South Baldwin Chamber serves Foley, Elberta, Magnolia Springs, Bon Secour and other area communities, while the Gulf Coast Chamber includes Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Fort Morgan.
McCarron didn’t think today's vote completely killed the merger idea, but it likely wouldn’t be voted on for at least another two years.
“The chamber should be the economic development engine,” McCarron said of the push for a regional chamber. “I still am in favor of it. But our membership has spoken, so we’ll move on from here.”
Meanwhile, McCarron said the chamber would focus on replacing the outgoing Gulf Coast Chamber president, Linda Whitlock, who is leaving the post at the end of the month. Her replacement could be hired within the next three months, McCarron said.

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